Thursday, March 6, 2008

Do you know how to boil water?- Part I

I thought I did.
But it took me a while before I realised its nuances (yes, boiling water has nuances- who knew?)- to be discussed over the next few postings.

The most basic thing about tea-making is boiling water, and so many of us seem to overlook that, that bad tea is a common phenomenon striking tea-cups worldwide!

I've only recently begun to appreciate tea: just a simple tea bag in boiling water with a spoonful of honey.
What is difficult to decide though are the amazing array of products to choose from, and how to extract the right flavor. There are a many boutique tea brands here in Southern California, with offerings ranging from corn (yes corn) tea to ubiquitous fruit teas and Chinese herbal teas, each nuanced with an accenting herb/fruit. These are usually fabulous- the more local and organic they are, the crisper and yet more soothing the taste appears to be.

Aside from the boutique herbal concoctions, we have "real" tea in 4 basic types:
- Black (the Black African from Tazo is good),
- Green (basic Salada- cheap and available in any supermarket, and the Indian Tetley's brand are both good- the former is stronger tasting than the latter, which is light and lemony),
- Oolong (basic Chinese tea, which you'd get w/ dim sum at your local China Town. Good, but gives me cravings to rush to Princess Garden downtown), and
-White (rare- very mild. You may be told you are buying white tea, but this kind normally can only be bought by the ounce at some Chinese speciality stores- at least in Southern California- the branded stuff is crap).

Whatever you may choose to drink, I find that leaving the bag in the cup, and puring the boiling water on top works best for me. And yes, like I said at the beginning, it should be boiling water- tiny bubbles do not indicate boiling, they should be large and bubbling- if in doubt, get one of the whistling teapots that all your local Linen 'n Things, Target, Walmart, even Ikea carry now. I got one that is clear, which allows me to ensure that there is no sediment collecting from salt deposits inside the pot overtime. The minute the water boils, it lets off a sharp whistle, and you know you can proceed. You could also try electric teapots- for some reason, mine is reserved for travelling.

Tea connoisseurs may laugh at my "tea bag" approach, but I honestly do not have the time to sit with tea leaves and strain a cup- its good if you do! I don't believe in letting the tea steep too long; the flavors appear sharper when the liquid is a deep color, but still clear. If steeped too long, the tea begins to release tannins and looks murky, which can happen in as quickly as a few minutes, so I do have to watch my cup.
I have friends who like to leave the bag in for as long as they take to finish the drink- its just too bitter and "un-pretty," for me! I know another friend who literally boils loose tea in a pan of boiling water for hours with herbs, proclaiming it good for general health- I am not sure I sympathise with this idea much. In India, it is common practice to add a stick of cinnamon, pieces of ginger, cardamoms, even whole black pepper to the water, and then boil it- this practice I believe actually serves better to soothe flu-like symptoms or the common cold.

In conclusion: super hot boiling water results in good tea- its all about timing. Watch the water bubble, hear the kettle whistle, and smell the tea fumes as the water hits the cup- that's the perfect cup of tea!

Disclaimer: I do not have an affiliation with any brands mentioned in this posting.

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